New discoveries redefine Angkor Wat’s history

Sydney, Dec 10 (IANS) Archaeological studies conducted at the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia have found that the largest religious monument in the world was far larger than expected and more complex than previously thought.

The University of Sydney’s professor Roland Fletcher and Damian Evans lead the Greater Angkor Project in Cambodia, a major international research collaboration which is using airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) technology, ground-penetrating radar and targeted excavation to map the great pre-industrial temple, according to a University of Sydney statement.

“This structure, which has dimensions of more than 1500m-600m, is the most striking discovery associated with Angkor Wat to date. Its function remains unknown and, as yet, it has no known equivalent in the Angkorian world,” said Professor Fletcher, from the university’s department of archaeology.

The team also discovered Angkor Wat includes an entire ensemble of buried ‘towers’ built and demolished during the construction and initial use of the main temple, remains of what is thought might be a shrine used during the construction period.

The areas surrounding Angkor Wat have long been assumed to be sacred precincts or ‘temple-cities’. However, the research has revealed evidence of low-density residential occupation in the region, including a grid of roads, ponds and mounds, possibly used by people servicing the temple.

“This challenges our traditional understanding of the social hierarchy of the Angkor Wat community and shows that the temple precinct, bounded by moat and wall, may not have been exclusively the preserve of the wealthy or the priestly elite,” said Fletcher.

The team has also discovered that Angkor Wat was fortified with wooden structures sometime late in its history. Fletcher said the results revealed how Angkor Wat may have made its last attempt at defence.

Angkor Wat is the first and only known example of an Angkorian temple being systematically modified for use in a defensive capacity,” he said.

“The available evidence suggests it was a late event in the history of Angkor, either between 1297-1585 A.D. along with other defensive works around Angkor, or perhaps sometime between 1585-1630 A.D., representing a final attempt to defend Angkor against the growing influence of (neighbouring city) Ayutthaya.”

“Either date makes the defences of Angkor Wat one of the last major constructions at Angkor and is perhaps indicative of its end,” Fletcher said.

The team’s latest discoveries are published in this month’s issue of the journal Antiquity.

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